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Pinellas elementary schools, students adjusting to life without daily PE

First-graders at Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater explode into action during a round of hoop tag in physical education class on Wednesday. The school, like others in Pinellas County, has moved PE to three days a week.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

First-graders at Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater explode into action during a round of hoop tag in physical education class on Wednesday. The school, like others in Pinellas County, has moved PE to three days a week.

Six-year-old Sram Muhqueed liked it when Eisenhower Elementary had physical education classes every day last year. This year, he enjoys longer PE classes three days a week.

Actually, the first-grader can't quite pinpoint the difference between the two. This year, he can "run and play," while last year he "got to throw balls at people."

District officials pushed elementary schools in Pinellas County this year to condense the state-mandated 150 minutes of weekly PE into three days instead of five. More than 40 schools moved from 30 minutes of daily PE to 50-minute blocks three days a week. Just two schools who had a daily PE schedule kept it for the 2013-14 school year.

Some other elementary schools have 40-minute sessions four days a week, while others already were on a three-day block schedule.

So far, it appears that the change has been harder on the adults than the students, said Pam Moore, the district's associate superintendent for teaching and learning. She said the reaction has been a "mixed bag."

Some parents were concerned about how long students would spend in the heat and humidity, and some PE teachers had protested that research supports daily PE, particularly when obesity is a serious health concern among children.

But there haven't been any reports about escalations in bad student behavior — a fear some PE teachers and parents cited when the switch was recommended last spring.

"I don't think the kids act any differently on the days when they have PE," said Paula Denmon, a third-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary.

Herbert "Champ" Weller, a 28-year veteran PE teacher, said there are pros and cons to each schedule. Students can finish an entire game in 50 minutes, something that wasn't always possible in 30-minute sessions. But kids also love to play.

"Everyone would like to see kids play every single day, but I don't think those days are here anymore," he said.

The impetus for the switch had little to do with physical education. Rather, district officials were looking at less-than-optimal math scores and trying to find a way to schedule more uninterrupted math instruction.

"When you just add up the numbers, something had to give somewhere," Moore said.

That was daily physical education.

With three days a week of PE, most schools can offer 60 minutes of math a day at once, plus an additional 30 minutes per day for small group instruction. When students don't have PE, they attend either music or art classes.

The change also provides teachers with more common planning time and makes it easier to calculate "value-added models" used in their professional evaluations, Moore said.

Antonette Wilson, principal of Eisenhower, said teachers know that children need to move throughout the day. She said they have "brain breaks," where they stand and stretch in the classroom. Some teachers will take students on a longer walk back to class from lunch or electives.

Moore said it's just good practice to have kids take breaks during the day. Physical education "shouldn't be the only time of the day that kids stretch," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Pinellas elementary schools, students adjusting to life without daily PE 10/19/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 8:50pm]
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